With the season of classic over-indulgence soon upon us, a board-certified doctor shares ways to cleanse your body naturally and bring your belly back to balance.
Your gut health is connected to practically everything. A lot of recent research has highlighted the connection between your gut microbiome and your nervous system, immune system, your sleep cycle and even mental health..so it’s no wonder the wellness world is heavily focused on getting gut health in check. And while some brands suggest that you can “heal your gut” with detox programs and fad diets—in truth, the best way to reset your gut is to follow doctor-approved steps for gut-friendly nutrition and habits that may surprise you with the ways they can help your stomach.
Dr. Katie E. Golden, MD, a board-certified physician in Charlotte, N.C., explains that each of us was born with a unique microbiome that changes over time and is impacted by our lifestyles. To reset your gut and get your digestive system into a healthy balance, Dr. Golden outlines five easy steps to help most anyone.
Step 1: Eat whole, fiber-rich foods
Dr. Golden says healthy gut bacteria tend to start in the kitchen—to be specific: “[…E]ating a whole-food, fiber-rich diet is one of the best ways to treat your gut well.” Fiber helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut that keep your digestive tract thriving.
The whole foods Dr. Golden recommends for gut health are “vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.” These can include oats, berries, beans, legumes, cruciferous vegetables and bananas on the greener side of ripeness. In contrast, processed foods have been shown to be a gut-punch to good digestive health, as they often tend to lack fiber and are high in saturated fat.
Dr. Golden also suggests adding probiotics to replenish the bacteria in your gut. “There is some evidence to suggest that fermented foods—such as pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, and yogurt—can support a healthy gut microbiome.”
Step 2: Get moving
Dr. Golden suggests incorporating daily physical activity to boost your gut health—and science confirms it. Research published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity in 2017 concluded that exercise “[was] able to enrich the microflora diversity” in ways that contributed to weight loss and relief from gastrointestinal disorders.
Turns out, this connection between exercise and the gut microbiome also works in reverse. A review published in Frontiers of Nutrition made the point that when endurance athletes reduced inflammation and gastrointestinal symptoms, their training and sports performance improved.
Step 3: Don’t let stress take over
Along with a nutritious diet and plenty of exercise, Dr. Golden says finding ways to reduce stress is key in resetting the gut. One 2020 psychiatry analysis at the Ohio State University suggested that stress and depression negatively affect the composition of gut bacteria. This can further heighten these mental health symptoms, as depression and gut health share an association.
Participating in activities that can lower stress is key to improving your gut health. This can include meditation and deep breathing, getting outside, and even taking a nap.
Step 4: Limit alcohol
Drinking alcohol can also have a negative impact on your gut health. Of alcohol, Dr. Golden says, “Many people are familiar with the way it can be harmful to your liver—which plays an important role in digestion. But alcohol can also damage the lining of your stomach and intestinal tract, and affect the way you absorb nutrients.”
Research has shown alcohol can lead to leaky gut syndrome, which has been linked to an increased risk of developing alcohol-related cancers.
If you’re looking to reset your gut, taking a break from alcohol may be a wise move.
Step 5: Evaluate your medications
If you’re taking medication, it may be important to talk to your doctor about whether it could be affecting your gut microbiome.
That’s particularly true with the use of antibiotics. “Antibiotics get rid of harmful bacteria that make us sick, but they also kill some of the good bacteria, too,” Dr. Golden says. “This doesn’t mean you should avoid antibiotics when you need them. But be sure not to take antibiotics prescribed to someone else, or without the recommendation of your provider. And when you do need them for an infection, you can support your gut through other factors, such as your diet.” Some doctors recommend eating fermented foods like yogurt to replace the healthy bacteria that live in the digestive system.